A debate over courthouse security that stayed hidden during Charlotte’s most closely watched trial in years may soon become a matter of public debate.
During his monthlong, voluntary manslaughter trial, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick was shepherded into the courthouse through a number of nonpublic entrances. But all eventually took him up through the judges’ offices and private elevators.
Sheriff Irwin Carmichael devised the route after Kerrick, who was accused of excessive force after shooting an unarmed black man 10 times, was enveloped by media and followed by a dozen taunting demonstrators during his December arraignment. The officer also received death threats, his attorneys said.
That unruly scene never resurfaced during the trial, which ended with a deadlocked jury. Demonstrations were small when they occurred at all. Each morning, Kerrick, along with his wife, attorneys and at least two armed deputies, would walk through a doorway normally reserved for jurors and other court personnel a few yards from his fifth-floor courtroom. He’d reverse his path at the end of the day.
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Except ... some judges took strong exception to Kerrick walking in their midst. None of the five jurists contacted agreed to discuss the matter. In a Sept. 9 email to the Observer, District Judge Charlotte Brown called the issue “moot.”
But this week, Mecklenburg County Commissioner George Dunlap resurrected the disagreement in an email to his colleagues. Without referring to Kerrick by name, Dunlap says that access afforded a certain defendant “caused some discomfort and unrest among many of the judges.”
Dunlap goes on to ask what commissioners, County Manager Dena Diorio and the county attorneys can do to restore the judiciary’s “feeling of security.”
Carmichael, whose staff is responsible for keeping the courthouse safe, was not included on the mailing list. Word during the trial was that a member of his staff ended up in a shouting match over the issue with a district judge. Several district judges also reportedly wondered how Kerrick qualified for such treatment when other defendants – even high-profile ones – do not.
In a prepared statement, Carmichael and Chief Deputy Felicia McAdoo defended their trial plan, which they say made it safer for everyone using the courthouse, including the judges.
“We pride ourselves that over 1 million visitors enter our courthouse each year, and to date we have managed to keep each of them ... safe,” they wrote.
George Laughrun, one of Kerrick’s attorneys, applauds the sheriff’s strategy. He believes it spared Kerrick, jurors and hundreds of courthouse visitors a daily scrum of media and protesters that could have jeopardized the safety of more people than just his client.
“In 36 years of walking into the courthouse, I have never been scared until that arraignment,” Laughrun said Thursday. “Officer Kerrick had the right of being safe coming and going, and so did we.”
He says he understands that some judges were unhappy with the arrangements. “And that’s OK. But in a case like this, everybody has to give up a little bit. By everybody being a bit tolerant, it came off without a hitch.”